The Harvard Crimson: Why Chekov? Why Three Sisters?
Dorothy Fortenberry: It really struck me. It’s an incredibly well constructed play, in which every moment contributes to a complete and subtle and fascinating narrative.... More specifically, it’s about the limitations people put on themselves when they’re at really young ages.
THC: How have you placed limitations on yourself?
DF: [I say to myself], “Okay, I’ve gone through Harvard, I’m a pretty nice person, I’m pretty smart, I should have a meaningful job and a pretty nice husband just waiting around the block for me.” And that’s how the sisters feel. And when life doesn’t work out the way they expected, they don’t know how to cope.
THC: It sounds like a downer. But Chekov is also known for his sense of humor. How do you incorporate that element into a tragedy?
DF: I had a slapstick run of the show this morning where we played the entire thing for laughs for two hours, and it was wonderful.... I think there are moments in the text that are explicitly funny moments... Even the saddest have a twinge of irony.
THC: As a director, do you talk about the characters’ intentions with your actors?
DF: I think it has to start with intentions for this... The text isn’t explicit. The text says, “I would like a cup of tea.” What it means is, “I would like to have sex with you.“
THC: Do you want to leave the audience with a specific message?
DF: I feel like I want to tell a story that makes people reconsider their own lives.... I definitely know what the message is that it gives me. At the same time I hate as an audience member being told explicitly what the message is in a piece of art.
THC: But you understand Three Sisters as a play about the limitations people place on themselves.
DF: [The sisters] decide that they can’t go to Moscow. They choose their own limitations and then they act as though those limitations were created by an outside force.... There is no point at which that choice is taken away from them definitely. If it were another play, there would be the scene where their tickets burn, or some enormous cathartic event where all hopes are dashed.
THC: Does Three Sisters suffer without those cathartic moments?
DF: The negotiations, the victories and defeats can be actually more compelling than violent explosive moments, because I think they ring more heartbreakingly true to life.